Knicks fall to lowly Minnesota

December 26, 2008 8:45:44 PM PST
Kevin McHale turned to prayer, though it wasn't really needed. The combination of Al Jefferson inside and some sizzling 3-point shooting was more than enough. The Timberwolves snapped a 13-game losing streak and won for the first time this season under McHale, getting a season-best 23 points from Rashad McCants in a 120-107 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night.

"The guys have been playing hard and we really needed this one," McHale said. "At the end of the game I said, 'Thank God,' and I meant it.

Jefferson added 21 points and 15 rebounds in the Timberwolves' first victory since beating Oklahoma City on Nov. 28. They had dropped their first eight games under McHale, who took over when Randy Wittman was fired Dec. 8.

"Anything worth having in life takes some faith," McHale said. "And when that faith happens, it's a beautiful thing. And they've got to have faith that when they go out and play hard, good things are going to happen for them."

Sebastian Telfair finished with a season-high 20 points in his hometown and Randy Foye had 19 for the Wolves, who overran New York by using the Knicks' primary weapon, the 3-pointer. They came in 28th in the league in 3-point percentage and were making 4.6 per game - 6.0 fewer than New York's league-best average - but made a season-best 13 in 24 attempts (54 percent).

Nate Robinson and Al Harrington each scored 26 points for the Knicks, who lost their fifth straight. Wilson Chandler scored 19, but New York allowed its highest point total ever against Minnesota.

A disappointed coach Mike D'Antoni criticized his players for a lack of concentration and was asked what the Wolves did to look so good offensively.

"Nothing really," he said. "They just stood there and took wide-open shots. We just were really bad defensively."

Minnesota was closing in on its longest losing streak, a 16-game skid. But the Wolves put seven players in double figures for McHale's first victory since he led the Wolves to a 19-12 mark after taking over when Flip Saunders was fired in the 2004-05 season.

"We were making shots tonight and then when they made a run we didn't put our heads down," Jefferson said. "We just kept playing."

Jefferson took over midway through the third quarter, bulling his way past smaller defenders to lead an 11-1 spurt that made it 82-64. The Knicks were then forced to help on him with as many as three players, freeing room for McCants, who nailed three 3-pointers later in the period to give Minnesota a 94-75 cushion entering the fourth.

The Knicks woke up after three sluggish quarters to pull within seven with about 4½ minutes remaining, but Ryan Gomes hit a 3-pointer and Craig Smith converted a three-point play as Minnesota regained control at 112-99 with 3:40 remaining.

McCants was 7-of-9 behind the arc.

"We were going to try to make them pack it in and shoot contested 3s. And to their credit, they hit them tonight," said Knicks center David Lee, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds but fouled out trying to deal with Jefferson. "But our defense has to get better, everyone from top to bottom."

New York was without starter Quentin Richardson because of a sprained right ankle, but got Jared Jeffries back after he missed three games with a sore lower left leg. Point guard Chris Duhon left late in the first half after an inadvertent elbow from McCants opened a cut over his left eye, but he returned to start the second half after getting nine stitches.

The Wolves scored 10 straight as part of a 15-1 run midway through the second quarter, turning a two-point lead into a 58-42 lead on McCants' 3-pointer with 3:36 remaining. But they got sloppy and nine points from Harrington in the final 1:54 cut it to 63-55 at the break.

Notes: Telfair said he hadn't seen his cousin, Stephon Marbury, while back in New York. He added he didn't know much about Marbury's status with the Knicks, other than knowing the banished guard misses playing and hopes to continue his career. "We all want our ending stories to be a certain way. I mean, he's still healthy. I think this is a chapter in his book and hopefully he smartens up and creates his own ending and don't let nobody else create it for him." ... McHale wasn't sure if Mike Miller, out with a sprained ankle, would return Saturday against Orlando. ... Richardson was hurt at the end of practice Thursday but took part in Friday's morning shootaround before ruling himself out.